Hollywood Bowl brings classic film JAWS to life

JAWS Hollywood Bowl mainbar

What does Jaws the Concert look like?

We’re all familiar with the legendary theme. And even if we haven’t seen it we’ve all heard someone hum the Dun, dun, dun, da, Dun, dun, dun da to intone danger—more than 40 years after the movie hit theaters. Of course, the real John Williams’ Academy Award-winning fluctuations of pitch, building to the perfectly timed tuba for maximum ante suspense, is so much bigger than the Dun, dun, dun.

Any devotee will tell you that. Maybe, but how do you keep that up for a couple hours-worth of concert?

It didn’t occur to me to consider this until my computer mouse hovered over the “buy ticket” button on the Hollywood Bowl website Saturday morning. My friend Chase is a filmmaker and Spielberg obsessive. As moved to get into his career by Jaws as he was anything else, he’s one of those fans. Yet he didn’t have an answer to that question. Still, his enthusiasm led me to bite. That, and I’d never been to the lofty bowl.

As it turned out, Jaws the Concert is really just Jaws the Movie. Except it’s shown outside. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performs from a stage beneath a multi-screen projection. From way back in the peanut gallery, we were still able to spot when conductor David Newman’s microscopic looking hands started moving. That was always a clue to what was looming—a behemoth Carcharodon Carcharias was smarting around the waters. The setting: the fictional New England town of Amity, “which as you know means friendship,” says the self-serving mayor Larry Vaughn.

Honestly, prior to this show, I don’t think I ever made it through Jaws without falling asleep at some point. Disappointment is a common reaction when we view a classic, years after it hit theaters.

But seeing Jaws at the Bowl, with the orchestral background, I got a sense of what it would be like to see the film as Spielberg and Williams intended. Think drive-in movie theater. Sadly, there aren’t many of those around LA these days—though the Bowl is a much grander stage, albeit a more expensive one.

Even from all the way back, even in a movie we’ve seen before, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra stringing away–when serrated teeth meet human flesh and bone—you will feel your face contorting in all sorts of unnatural ways. I caught a woman next to me murmur something about how her oceanographer father still can’t bring himself to watch the movie.

I was curious upon arriving to see who shows up and spends money on this kind of show. Other than the Chases of the world, of course. I guess I need to get out more around LA. I was a little more than surprised by the showing. In the sea of people, everyone from children to seniors alike could be spotted with a light up shark fin strapped to their heads. Good Summer fun for everyone.

Sitting next to us was a somewhat lively/somewhat rowdy troupe, passing a vat of rum back and forth. They also had a basket full of baked goodies they were generously sharing with anyone close. It turned out it was one woman’s birthday. She had her adult son and his girlfriend with her, among others.

Eavesdropping, I learned Jaws was her favorite movie. You could see pretty quickly she wasn’t just saying that.

Reciting line after line, often singing along to the many sea jingles of ill-fated anti-hero and drunkard shark hunter, Quint—played by the late Robert Shaw. Her impersonations went further when she began imitating major character movements before they happened. She threw her leg up on the rail for example when Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Matt Hopper, shows off his pre-existing bull shark wound before doing the same with her other leg, mirroring Quint’s counter with his own war scars.

Normally, I hate it when people do this sort of thing during movies, but this was technically a concert. And seeing someone get so rapt made the evening that much more memorable. And after the show ended, I watched as she used a finger to discreetly wipe a couple of tears from her eyes. It was astounding to me that someone could cry from Jaws.

As Mayor Vaughn famously says while knowing full well the lurking danger he is enabling: “It’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open, and everyone is having a wonderful time.”

Well, from our vantage point at jaw-dropping bowl, the last part of Vaughn’s statement rang true. And, with all the truly bad shark movies around, even if I’m not the textbook beneficiary of the Jaws effect, there are certainly worse ways to enjoy Shark Week.

Words by Ezra Salkin
Photos by Chase Coble